The Black Eye: Five to Keep Your Eye On


We all, quite rightly, mostly talk about the great athletes in this country, but behind the scenes of Canada’s always growing MMA business the coaches, the promoters, the media and so many other people play a huge and, sometimes, thankless role.

Every month or so, I’m going to profile five of them.

Sometimes I’m profiling them because they are involved in noteworthy activities in the coming month. Sometimes its because they did something special in the last few months. Sometimes I’ll write about them as what I like to call a “founder”, someone who has contributed great things to the sport in this country. And sometimes I’ll simply write about them because they are someone you really should know.

This is just my profile of five MMA professionals in this country. Some are friends I know very well, and some are people I’m getting to know as I write this, because I feel they will be making bigger and bigger contributions to the fight game in Canada and we should take note.

These are five MMA professionals to keep your eye on.


John Ramdeen (Toronto, ON)

  • Analyst/Play by Play man/Writer/Producer- Fight Network.

John Ramdeen with Yours Truly at Ringside.

John Ramdeen started working at Fight Network seven years ago when it launched and worked behind the scenes doing whatever was asked of him for years.

When an opportunity arose on air, he worked hard, earned the job, and began contributing as an analyst. He worked as a right hand to broadcasting great Mauro Ranallo, a man whom he always credits as his MMA media mentor (as do I).

Ramdeen is extremely well-rounded as an analyst and is very knowledgeable on the fighting arts, matchups, statistics, the big picture, etc. He also has specialized knowledge on history of the sport, timeline, coaches and camps, fighter biographies, PRIDE, international prospects, and more. This guy has a lifetime of constant obsessive research to draw on, and uses it well on TV.

As a play-by-play man, he brings a great balance of passion and excitement, mandatory information and structure, and entertainment.

I work with this guy every week, and it is my feeling that he is one of the best in the world at his job. He works hard at it and he loves it.

If you don’t have Fight Network, check it out when its in free preview all this month (March).

Also of note: Rammer has shed 50 pounds since November.  Congrats man!


Curtis Brigham and Giuseppe DeNatale (Winnipeg, MB)

  • Curtis Brigham – Owner and Head Instructor at Winnipeg Academy of Mixed Martial Arts. MMA Fighter.
  • Giuseppe DeNatale – Owner and Head Instructor at Canadian Fighting Center, Owner and Promoter of the CFC MMA show, Multiple Time Muay Thai and K-1 World Champion.

I know these are two different coaches and they don’t even work together.  I know that by including them both in my column under one post that I am already ruining my structure (6 to keep an eye on??) here. And I know this may be confusing, but I don’t care.

Both of these men are relevant now and always in MMA in Canada and I am profiling them because they are the two most important founders of MMA in Winnipeg.

Not all coaches have fought, but both Giuseppe and Curtis did. Man, did they ever.

10 years ago, Curtis Brigham used to get in a car and drive 10 or more hours to fight in “barely sanctioned” MMA shows wherever he could find them, sometimes paying an entrance fee to do it. In these contests, men would be thrown together based on approximate size so the 145 pound Brigham would end up fighting whoever was “smallest”, which would typically still be a man 40 to 50 pounds heavier than him.

And, in those days before the evolution of the sport, the combatants would often be some tattooed crazy or the toughest bouncer in town or some ex-cons. The diminutive Brigham would try to use the jiu-jitsu skills he had assembled (from watching, traveling and sharing the art among the handful of Canadians who were training it) to tap out his opponent. And he often did.
He also fought serious dudes like CJ Fernandes and Sean Sherk on short notice. Legit.

Giuseppe has been a fighter all his life and was all but unbeatable as a Heavyweight Muay Thai monster. He developed a reputation as being un-hurtable, and he quickly became that man that you simply did NOT want to fight.

One of Duke Roufus’ toughest students ever. His sparring sessions with Duke are more exciting than most sanctioned fights. And more legendary.

A former K-1 Heavyweight Champion. A former World Muay Thai Champion. Countless titles and championships. A stone cold killer.
He even broke his back in a severe car accident, then came back within a year and won an MMA fight. Insane.

These two guys have evolved in two independent paths as top fighters, coaches (they both have developed fantastic athletes) and leaders, but, together with their teams of the next generation of great young fighters, they have made Winnipeg one of the greatest fight towns in Canada.


Scott MacLean (Halifax, NS)

  • Coach, Instructor and Trainer at FIT Plus in Dartmouth NS. Trainer of TJ Grant, Tristan Johnson, and others.

There is a real beauty in not working in MMA hotbeds like Montreal, Edmonton and Toronto. You can sneak in under the radar.
TJ Grant has quietly snuck up on some people, going 4-3 in the UFC with big wins over Ryo Chonan and Shane Roller. And Scott MacLean and FIT Plus have quietly been making a name for themselves.

There’s no question MacLean is running a good ship out there and he is building great athletes. If Tristan Johnson continues to improve and evolve and win exciting fights with top guys, he will soon be joining Grant in the UFC.

There really isn’t a ton of info out there about MacLean and his training strategies and methods, but you can see the top skills in his fighters on the feet and on the mat and the proof is in the pudding.

One popular theory: it’s the fanny pack he wears when he coaches and corners.

What’s in there? Is it cornerman tools? Magic beans? Cybernetic accessories? Airplane bottles of vodka? Shrunken heads?
No one really knows.

All kidding aside Scott MacLean is a very serious MMA coach to watch in Canada.


Adam Zugec (Victoria, BC.)

  • Owner/Instructor Zuma Martial Arts. Trainer of Sarah Kaufman, Diego Wilson, Connor Wood, and others.

Adam Zugec

One of the West Coast’s top MMA instructors, Adam needs to be profiled this month after the fantastic performance of his prized pupil, Sarah Kaufman, at Strikeforce recently.

Adam is as educated an educator that you will find. He developed as a top trainer and coach by training under some of the best MMA minds on the planet, including Erik Paulson, Greg Jackson, Bob Carver, Yorinaga Nakamura, Dan Inosanto, the Machado Brothers, and the great Marcus Soares.

In this sport, we still put a huge premium on being a BJJ Black Belt, and Adam has been one since 2008, but Adam is also a top notch instructor of both boxing and thai, and an associate instructor of Shooto and Jeet Kune Do as well.

Sarah Kaufman, one of the best female MMA fighters in history, always gives so much credit to Zugec and, by all accounts, he deserves it all. His knowledge, skilled instruction, gameplanning, cornering, and mental preparation appear world class. He has Sarah prepared physically, and she enters every fight as a mental giant.

Watch for some of Adam’s younger fighters coming up too, as they enter their fights well rounded and well prepared. Connor Wood, Nick Driedger and Diego Wilson are just a few to keep your eyes on.

Victoria is such an incredibly beautiful place. As the word continues to get out about Zugec and his skills as a coach and reputation as a great human being, do not be surprised to see the odd top fighter make a move there to train with Adam.

Congratulations to Sarah and Adam for her win over Alexis Davis in one of the greatest fights that you will ever see. All the best against Rousey for the title.


Sam Zakula (Toronto, ON)

  • BJJ and MMA Coach at Xtreme Couture Toronto. Owner TapStar collective. Corner, Coach and strategist for Sean Pierson and Head Coach of Misha Cirkunov and others.

There was a time when Zakula got a lot more attention for some of his, uh, extra curricular activities (like getting into conflicts of one kind or another), than he did for his top notch coaching.

But as Zakula has aged, that crusty part of him seems to have mellowed, while the part of him that is a brilliant coach, gameplanner and strategist has continued to evolve.

A standard day for Zakula might involve teaching some young fighters in the day, then at night simultaneously studying fight tapes, watching an amateur wrestling event live from Russia on the internet. and researching every detail of Misha’s next opponent.
Famously, so the story goes, when Sean Pierson found out Friday night that he’d be fighting Matt Riddle at UFC 124, he woke up early Saturday morning to find a detailed email from Zakula rife with links, insights, strategies and analysis on Riddle, and a complete breakdown of his strengths, weaknesses, and tendencies. Zakula stayed up all night doing the deep dive.

With Misha, he has quietly helped the talented Light-Heavyweight compile a record of 5-1 using a brilliant defensive strategy that has kept him winning using his strengths while continuing to eliminate his weaknesses while remaining healthy and uninjured.
We celebrate shutouts in hockey and brilliant defensive teams in football and perfect games in baseball. A lot of people who analyze the sport are starting to really understand how tough it is to “pitch a shut-out” in MMA, and how under appreciated it is. Misha has pitched a few of them.

It’ll be interesting to keep an eye on Zakula. If he can continue to grow as a coach and mellow as a guy, he could have some champions in his future.


This month I’m a bit heavy on coaching staff, and light on other areas of the business. Every “Five” spotlight will be different.
In the coming months, I already want to do some short profiles on Claude Patrick, Pat Cooligan, The Aggression MMA guys, Firas Zahabi, Geoff Gervitz, Jeff Joslin, Kyle Cardinal, Showdown Joe Ferarro, Shah Franco, Lee Mein, Marc-Andre Drolet, Big Win, Stephane Patry, Alex Caporicci, RG Grant, Justin Bruckman, “Big Jake” Jake Hirsh, Brendan Fyfe, and many many many others. There are so many interesting people in all areas of this sport as it grows in Canada. So many people who have contributed to and helped shape this great sport.

Have someone you think I should know more about? Someone that’s contributing to the athletes or the sport?

Please email me and tell me all about it.

Remember. There’s nothing more beautiful than a great fight.

11 Responses to “ The Black Eye: Five to Keep Your Eye On ”

  1. Great piece, every one of these guys deserves the recognition.

    I’m friends with all of them except Scott MacLean. And that’s because his fanny pack scares the shit out of me.

    Just kidding, I haven’t been fortunate enough to have cross path’s with him yet.

    Well-loved! Thumb up 12 Thumb down 2

  2. MDF says:

    Sam Z is the man!!!!

    Well-loved! Thumb up 18 Thumb down 2

  3. EPerez says:

    ‘Boss’ started 13 years ago. Canadian mma pioneer, he’s seen it all and then some. If we can only convince him to put the gloves back on we’d have another UFC competitor out of WAMMA.

    Well-loved! Thumb up 21 Thumb down 4

  4. Sweet Dreams says:

    Great article Mr. Black. Curtis is a mentor to many and I consider myself very fortunate to train with (i.e. beat up by) some of the best athletes in the country. Raising the profile of people who helped build a solid foundation for the best sport in the world benefits us all. Whoever thumbs downed the previous comments should take a long leap off a short bridge and learn some respect. More articles such as these are fantastic Robin, good work.

    Well-loved! Thumb up 20 Thumb down 1

  5. Jerobe says:

    Robin. I think an indepth story on Kyle Cardinal would be an amazing read

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 7 Thumb down 5

  6. One of the proudest moments in my life was being awarded my BJJ Blue Belt by Curtis Brigham years ago.

    One of the nicest guys around, and he’s been around since the beginning.

    Well-loved! Thumb up 15 Thumb down 1

  7. Great guys and a great, positive piece! Nice to read the positive comments as well.

    Well-loved! Thumb up 11 Thumb down 2

  8. Robin Black says:

    Its going to be a real pleasure to try my best to feature the great coaches and agents and media and promoters and all the good human beings who make this business tick in Canada.

    Thanks for all the awesome feedback, and thanks for the emails about the people I should profile in the coming months. The list is getting bigger fast, and its so cool to look and realize just how many great people contribute great things to MMA in this country.

    I realize there’s always a bit of talk about people who are “bad” for the sport. Its always so easy to focus on the negative.

    I just wanted to look at the positive, and start to give credit to good people doing good things for the sport. To try to showcase the builders and the leaders and the givers, and not worry about the takers.

    This is going to be a lot of fun, and a real privilege and pleasure to try to give credit where credit is due.

    Already starting the next one. Its fun writing about talented people and good folks.

    Well-loved! Thumb up 8 Thumb down 1

  9. MikeB says:

    Should do Canada’s number 1 MMA Manager in Mitch from

    Thumb up 4 Thumb down 3

  10. EPerez says:

    Not easy to get a blue from Curtis Brigham. Nobody is given belts at WAMMA.

    Well-loved! Thumb up 13 Thumb down 4

  11. Dave "SHOULDRZ" MACMILLAN says:

    Curtis Brigham is one of the best people I’ve met PERIOD. I’m grateful to call him a friend and a person I look up to.

    Well-loved! Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

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